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Phelps Produces Best Swim Of The Day

Nov 15, 2009  - Craig Lord

The swim of the day at the Berlin round of the World Cup, which witnessed 10 more shiny suit world marks, came from 14-times Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps (USA). He clocked a best time of 1:53.70 in the 200m medley and finished second to Darian Townsend (RSA), on 1:51.55, the best time ever seen in a shiny suit and global mark No  31 of the tour and 228 since the silliest show in town began in February last year.

You could almost see Phelps learning lessons as he went, learning how to get more off the wall, stretching and driving himself on. Good to end a world cup tour on a high though he said he was neither happy nor disappointed.

"I prefer not to lose, but I knew coming in that it would be very, very hard to win anything," Phelps said. "I raced as hard as a I could, I've gotten some racing under my belt and that's we set out to do. Maybe it's better for me that I lost today, it gives me better motivation for the future. I am pleased with the week as much as I can be, with how much training I've done, which is little. And it shows."

In the midst of a session in which the grasping hand of opportunism and deadline-beating desperation hung heavy in the air and sunk the sport of swimming deeper into the murky depths before it is resurrected on January 1, 2010, seven of the 10 world records fell within an hour. All 10 belonged to a parallel sport running alongside swimming for the next 46 days until the axe falls on bodysuits and non-textile surfboardary. 

The tally of global standards broken since February 2008 now stands at 231, 123 of those in 2009, 34 on this world cup circuit, 16 in Berlin alone, which is two shy of the number of world records set at the Berlin meet in all the years between 2000 and 2008 combined.  Here in Berlin there were more than 130 swims over the 1000-point mark. There were 13 European records and countless national standards and a tidal wave of destruction as far as the all-time rankings and the thread of history was concerned.

The bill for world records so far on this FINA/arena World Cup tour: $340,000.

Fine for the pockets of swimmers - but what a way to make a mockery of sport - but mockery it most certainly is, a circus the likes of which the sport has never seen before. Not because the swimmers were not skilled and not because they haven't worked hard and so on and so forth. But in large part because the worth of what they are "achieving" is seriously undermined by the regularity of moments that are supposed to be special: all 231 of them. As if. Entertainment value: 0. Send on the bearded lady - and ask her what multitude of sins her facial hair may be masking. 

Pity Berlin, which puts on a great meet. The Arena Festival long put on a great meet and was considered the unofficial world short-course championships before such a thing existed, spectacular such moments as those provided by The Albatross as he graced German crowds with his wingspan and speed, and all in briefs that took nothing away from the copious worldwide media coverage generated by Michael Gross and other greats of that era. Great days those days when a world record was a truly special moment worth getting on your feet for. The German crowd this year was treated to something - but it was not graced with a serious show. 

Here we go with the latest storm of silly suit nonsense, starting with the flood of no fewer than 10 silly-suit standards to add to the 6 broken in Berlin yesterday: 

  • 15/11/09: 200m freestyle - Paul Biedermann (GER) 1:39.37 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 50m breaststroke - Jessica Hardy (USA) 28.80 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 100m breaststroke - Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA) Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 100m butterfly - Evgeny Korotshkin (RUS) 48.48 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 100m backstroke: Sahiho Sakai (JPN) 55.23 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 200m butterfly - Liu Zige (CHN) 2:00.78 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 200m medley - Darian Townsend (RSA) 1:51.55 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 200m breaststroke - Leisel Jones (AUS) 2:15. 42 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 100m medley - Hinkelien Schreuder (NED) 57.74 Berlin
  • 15/11/09: 200m backstroke - Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS) 1:46.11 Berlin

More to go before the year is out, almost certainly.

Paul Biedermann (GER) and his arena X-Glide suit continued to place the old sport of swimming in the shade here in Berlin this afternoon: 1:39.37 is the new global shiny-suit standard  for the 200m freestyle. The man from Halle swam to that result in the way he has swum to all of his suited bests: by controlling the first three-quarters of the race and then  blasting rivals and the old world away with a knockout punch that resembles nothing that went before in the sport that used to be called swimming.

Here's what we're talking about:

  • Biedermann 2008 (textile R-Evolution): 24.18; 50.06; 1:15.93; 1:40.83
  • Biedermann 2009 (X-Glide full body) 23.79 49.29 (2) 1:14.72 1:39.37

Biedermann was fourth at the 50m, second at the 100m and the 150m, as South African Darian Townsend (RSA) over in lane 8 stormed 1.31sec ahead of world-record pace at 100m and 1.48sec inside at 150m. It was then that Biedermann dropped his bomb: 24.65 over the final 50m, compared to 25.87 for Brent Hayden (CAN), second in 1:40.80 and therefore also inside the previous world mark and 0.3sec inside the best we ever saw from Ian Thorpe (AUS), and 26.44 for the seriously fatigued Townsend, third in 1:42.01 by the end.

Biedermann, a pleasant man caught on the wave of it all, beat an ugly PR drum, playing to the home crowd (understandable) and even suggesting that he hoped he had "left Michael Phelps behind - at least as far as the 200 is concerned" (not so easy to understand why he would say that given that he knows well the truth of what is unfolding - he knows it better than all of us, of course). Some hope, that of his. Not a chance of it coming true, is likely to be the safer bet, when the full light of clean and fair sport sheds a ray of hope on a better day.

The second world record of the session fell within minutes, as Jessica Hardy cracked out a 28.80 win in the 50m breaststroke, ahead of a European record of 29.55 to Janne Schaefer (GER). Schaefer had never worn the silliest of suits before and explained that she had to do so if she wanted to be considered for selection in Germany given that all her main domestic rivals had put suit-boosted efforts on the clock. Schaefer said that the suit felt strange in that "you just glide and if you swim in a streamlined position you just keep going and don't feel anything, you just keep going". Gone the days, for now of no pain, no gain. They will be back soon and Schaefer believed that swimmers would have to put a lot more effort in. 

Her example is just one of the many reasons that go well beyond simple choice in explaining why swimmers are still spending more than half an hour before racing donning the silly suits and putting up with the pain and pressure of it all. Third place behind Schaefer was a 29.78 consolation for Leisel Jones.

During a break for much of 2009, the Australian released her iron grip on breaststroke. She took hold again in Berlin in a way that send a psycho-shock message to rivals who might have imagined her powers to have waned. After setting the 100m world mark at 1:03.00 yesterday, she reclaimed the 200m standard with a 2:15.42 effort. Rie Kaneto (JPN) took second in 2:16.73, with third place going to Rikke Moller Pedersen (DEN) in 2:18.30.

The third world mark of the session fell to Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA), with a 55.61sec 100m breaststroke blast. His 50m breaststroke standard of yesterday left him at the top of the FINA leader board for men and won him a car from Berlin organisers for the "performance of the meet" in the 50m breaststroke, based on points that placed Biedermann's stunning efforts down the pecking order. The explanation when looking at the more sensible IPS Points system organised by Nick Thierry is clear: sprint standards have taken more of a battering than they have in longer events in terms of the numbers flooding the all-time ranking. Biedermann's efforts stand out ahead of the suit game and are weighted accordingly, with points reflecting the degree to which the whole world at the helm has move standards on. The German's excellence over rivals, then, is costly to him. The overall world cup winner will win $100,000.

The fourth global standard went to Nikolay Korotyshkin (RUS) in 48.48 in the 100m butterfly. Second went to Steffen Deibler (GER) in 49.23, with third going to Andrew Lauterstein (AUS), in 49.54.

The fifth world record went to Shiho Sakai in 55.23 in the 100m backstroke. That sliced almost a second off her own standard, set earlier this year, while Gao Chang (CHN) went with her under the old mark and 56sec mark, on 55.72. Third went to South African Chanelle Van Wyk in 56.56. The 20-year-old South African's time is faster than Natalie Coughlin swam to a world record in the midst of a long process of investing much time, and energy and money in working towards the best angle of buoyancy possible in her quest to be the best in the world. Van Wyk started this world cup season by setting a bext time of 59.70 in Durban. That was October. In November, she dropped to a 58.33 in Moscow. And now she sports a best of 56.56. Extraordinary by any standards.

Olympic champion Liu Zige (CHN) claimed the sixth world  record of the day, a 2:00.78 that gave her a comfortable victory in the 200m butterfly. Given that 2:01.81 l/c stunner of a global mark last month, few will be surprised with Liu Zige's latest hammer blow. Mandy Loots (RSA) followed on, in 2:04.48, with Micha Ostergard (DEN) third in 2:04.98.

Another to earn a $10,000 prize was Hinkelien Schreuder (NED), with a dominant 57.74 global mark in the 100m medley. The battle for second place went to Whitney Myers (USA), on 58.96, 0.07sec ahead of Francesca Halsall (GBR), who earlier in the session had rejoined battle with Danish rival Jeanette Ottesen in the 100m freestyle. This time it was Ottesen who got the touch, 51.95 to 52.07. Third place went to Inge Dekker (NED) in 52.21. 

The last world record of the day fell to Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS) with a 1:46.11 effort in the 200m backstroke. The standard had stood to George Du Rand (RSA), in 1:47.08 since Moscow. The South African managed to taken second place in 1:48.06, 0.09sec ahead of Marjus Rogan (AUT). 

How exciting it all was. How deep the envy that other sports must look upon swimming with. Then again, perhaps not. Depends on your tolerance for dripping taps and ticking clocks. Visibility of all these world records? Worth? Meaning? Value? Questions of quality and quantity. Roll on New Year's Day for right now the sport of swimming, if it can be called that, looks ridiculous.

Beyond the global-standard bashing, Roland Schoeman (RSA) clocked 20.57 in the 50m freestyle; Federico Colbertaldo (ITA) claimed the 1,500m freestyle in 14:29.46 after a tight tussle with Pal Joensen (FAR), second in 14:32.15; Tanya Hunks (CAN) claimed the top spot in the 400m medley in 4:30.52; Gerhard Zandberg added to South Africa's growing list of triumphs with a 22.85 win in the 50m backstroke; the 400m freestyle went to Lotte Friis (DEN) in 4:01.21; and Marieke Guehrer (AUS) got the last say in the 50m butterfly, with a 24.69 win.

The World Cup series ends in Singapore next weekend. It begins again next year as a serious swimming competition, with Madrid, Tokyo and Dubai among the potential hosts alongside the long-term world-cup partners such as Stockholm and Berlin.